Sacrifice theme returns to US politics
Both McCain and Obama cite the need for selflessness and service.
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When introducing McCain, his wife, Cindy, often praises his history of “sacrifice and service” as a prisoner of war and refers to him as “the man who taught me about selfless sacrifice.” At a September event in New York on the importance of national service, McCain explained his views this way:Skip to next paragraph
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“The best way to commemorate and to show our appreciation – and love and sympathy for the families of those who’ve sacrificed – is to serve our country....”
A key to public acceptance is how sacrifice is characterized. Mr. Carter’s initial calls to sacrifice were successful, Zogby argues. “We did put sweaters on, and we did turn our thermostats down. But then he turned it into a malaise and blamed the victim, which didn’t cut it.”
Americans have been cranky about high gasoline prices this summer and Congress’s vote to spend billions to bail out troubled banks. But the credit crunch, plummeting stock market, and risk of severe recession have been sobering. “Now somebody has to connect it and say, ‘There’s more sacrifice to come, but now it’s for something better – a better nation,’ ” Zogby says.
Of the two candidates, some analysts say, Obama has been more effective in evoking sacrifice than has McCain, who relies on his own history to stand as an example in itself.
“Obama’s goal is to look more like Franklin Roosevelt,” says Darrell West, director of governance at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. “We faced a real challenge in the 1930s, and people ... were willing to sacrifice because they knew the future of the country depended on it.
Obama has to basically say, ‘We’re facing a crisis on the level of the Great Depression, and we’re going to have to make sacrifices if we’re going to solve this.’ ”
When McCain talks about sacrifice, it’s usually in terms of national security. He has also said a “call to serve” will be central to his administration. But on the campaign trail, the Republican candidate has shied away from asking average people to sacrifice directly. Some analysts see his attack on Obama for “redistributing the wealth” as a kind of code for “Obama will ask you to sacrifice your money” – something that has never played well politically.
“What McCain’s doing is saying, ‘You mean that anybody is supposed to give anything up for anything else? That’s not what we do,’ ” says Professor Leff. “Sacrifice is OK and absolutely legit if you’re talking about soldiers, but that’s it.”
Whichever candidate is elected Tuesday, levels of public involvement in the campaign so far and high voter turnout could indicate a fundamental change in American political discourse and expectations.
“We may be on the verge of a substantial shift in ... the political dialogue and rhetoric that dominate American politics,” says Dr. Thorndike, the “War and Taxes” coauthor, in an interview. “We have a real crisis right now that presents an opening for someone who knows how to rally the country in pursuit of a common objective.”